On Christian Objectivity 5: bin Laden is dead!
The way Christians responded to bin Laden’s death has been on my mind. It’s been on the minds of lots of people, actually. This theme alone probably accounts for half of my Facebook feed for the last few days.
Basically, everyone has fallen into one of two camps. Some say you have to love your enemies, or maybe quote Prov. 24:17 (“Don’t rejoice when your enemy falls”). Others are fairly happy that justice has been done, and a murderer is dead. It’s likely by now that many readers have noticed everyone doesn’t break down neatly into these two categories. Breaking things down like this glosses over a good deal of sublety. However, for present purposes I think it functional.
So what is the most Christian response? What are Christians supposed to think about bin Laden’s death?
I think trying to figure out the Christian response is quixotic. It’s chasing windmills. There are a number of reasons for this:
1) The way people respond to bin Laden’s death is partially a response to emotion. Emotions aren’t good or bad, and it’s pretty rare for the Bible to condemn certain emotions themselves. Emotions respond to certain things. For example, two good Christians, one living in Bangalore and one who lost their wife in the collapse of the Trade Towers, will respond differently to Sunday’s news. This will be shaped by their Christian faith, but emotion is a factor as well. That’s not bad. That’s OK.
2) To ask if we have to love our enemy or seek justice presents a false dichotomy. The Bible tells us to do both. The fact that this isn’t immediately obvious raises a few questions. Do these two ideas seem incompatible? If so, why? Can one not pray for bin Laden (and not selfishness wrapped in piety like “Lord, make him a Christian” or “Lord, bring him to justice,” but deep serious loving prayer) and also hope he’s caught/killed? There are thousands of people worldwide working in prison ministries. They love criminals while also standing for justice; why can’t we? I think this is probably the most important point I hope to make here: we have to practice doing both.
3) This question tries to force everything into a black or white good/bad grid. This has more to do with the period we live in, which is enamored with binary decisions, than it does with the Bible. The Bible does not act as if there is always a single correct way to respond to everything (though sometimes things are that simple), and we shouldn’t either.
And number four…
How does a Christian respond when evil is arrested through evil means? Surely the authority the Bible gives to government to occasionally do evil things (kill murderers, for example) is a temporary concession to the scarred world around us. When the world works the way it is supposed to again, we will not need to kill people like bin Laden. People like bin Laden won’t be people like bin Laden, they’ll be good. Are Christians supposed to rejoice when this necessary evil is carried out? Will we rejoice when murderers are executed?
It’s complicated. On one hand, it’s a relatively better situation, sure. I’d rather bin Laden dead than able to kill others, but that doesn’t make it good he is dead. It makes it better than the alternatives. That’s still pretty bad.
So how should a Christian feel about all of this? Should we be delighted the better of two bad options has finally transpired? That’s one reasonable emotional reaction to the situation. Should we be bummed out that the whole thing was necessary in the first place? Should we mourn that we, as a government of the people and by the people, killed someone? After all, even though it’s better than the alternative, it isn’t good. These are both reasonable reactions. As long as you’ve found a way to love your enemies and also look for justice, I’ve got nothing to condemn.
This is the fifth part in a series describing limits on objectivity. The purpose of these posts is not to totally destroy belief in objectivity, but to develop a more accurate understanding of our own limitations. Hopefully this is the first step towards compensating for them, at least a little.